The Act presents women in a range of professions from dominatrices to aerial artistes, a porn actress and an escort. Each image acts like a diorama offering viewers a glimpse of someone in the midst of an erotic performance. With dramatic lighting and deep, saturated colours, it has a surreal and theatrical quality – a familiar aesthetic in Fullerton-Batten’s work.
Fullerton-Batten says she was inspired by the idea that all of the women featured spend their entire working lives “as if on a stage.”
“I created the backdrop for the images in the form of mini-theatrical sets,” she explains on her website. “Each setting is relevant to the individual woman and her profession. The mini-sets were mounted on a stage as if they were giving a performance, which indeed they were. My choice of cinematic lighting imparts an enigmatic interpretation of their acts. It is a split second of a filmic recreation of their life. As far as possible, I have avoided sexually explicit scenes – undeniably the images are sexy and provocative, but also playful.”
Images of sex workers often focus on the seedier side to the job or employ a grittier aesthetic but Fullerton-Batten’s series has an almost painterly feel. Women are captured in carefully composed sets in the same way one might photograph a theatre actor, performance artist or ballet dancer on stage. While some appear more vulnerable than others, most appear confident and in control.
Images are accompanied by interviews in which women reflect on their work and how they got into the industry. Fullerton-Batten has also made a short film in which they explain why they do what they do. Some acknowledge that their bodies have suffered as a result of their work – porn actress Jade admits that acting in sex scenes with men “is a lot to put your body through” – while others admit that their choice of job has led to tension in their family, but most say they find their work empowering or liberating.
The sex industry remains a controversial topic – while some people feel women should be free to profit from their body, others believe it is exploitative and should be abolished. The Act does not pass judgment but instead invites debate by presenting a range of women who, for various reasons, have actively chosen to work in the industry.
After spending time with the women featured, Fullerton-Batten says she “came to admire them” – though admits it’s not a career choice she would ever want to make. “They are women who are proud of their bodies and choose to use their bodies to make an income,” she says. “They are honest to themselves and exhibit a high degree of self-respect.”
You can see the full series and read interviews with the women featured at juliafullerton-batten.com